October 5, 2021

Streaming Services: How "Plus" Are All The Plus Options?


Remember when the concept of streaming shows on TV, on-demand, on your schedule, did not exist? Unless you had a VHS machine hooked up to HBO or one of the channels available on your cable provider, you watched what was offered at the time it was on. Likely you had a hundred, maybe two hundred choices. The fact that you really only watched a dozen of them with any regularity was simply the way the video ball bounced. You did not have many choices to drop things that didn't interest you, though the companies were quite happy to give you "premium" channels, for a higher bill.

All that began to change in 2005 when YouTube starting offering streaming videos. In addition to DVDs mailed to your house, Netflix began streaming movies and TV shows directly into the home in 2007. Watching became something that could be based on the user's schedule. Amazon launched Instant Video in 2011. And, the race was on.

Over the next several years "cutting the cord" became common practice: getting rid of your wired TV service and signing up for one, two, or more streaming services. For many of us, our monthly bill for entertainment was cut in half, and the choices of what to watch seemed almost infinite.

What came next should have been completely predictable. Realizing their dominance over our watching choices, streaming services began to segment their product. Hulu was the first. In 2010 it added Hulu Plus as a choice: no commercials but a monthly fee higher than the streaming service with advertising. Other companies quickly followed. Content moved from the mainstream service to a premium, or plus, channel that cost more but promised exclusive programming and more choices.

The Plus choice race was on. Just a sample includes Disney Plus. Apple TV Plus, PBS Passport, HBO Max, ESPN Plus, Discovery Plus,  Samsung TV Plus. BET Plus, and Paramount Plus (the old CBS Access)At last count, there were over 400 "Plus" streaming services.

And guess what? Folks started migrating to the more expensive Plus choices while keeping "standard" options like Netflix and Prime. With the price increase for Netflix and Prime (based on increases in the shipping service), some selectivity was needed. Otherwise, the monthly bill for video services would start to approach the old cable TV days.

The Lowry household has Netflix, Prime, Hulu (with the ads), Disney Plus, Curiosity, and PBS Passport. We have toyed with the offering from Discovery Plus and HBO Max. Services that we have enjoyed in the past, but no longer have include Britbox and Acorn TV, for the great British mystery and crime shows.

Before we add to our monthly bill and have even more choices to make, I am turning to you. This is really an information-gathering post for me. I would like to know what "Plus" services you subscribe to that you can recommend.

What streaming services do you spend the most time with? Where are your streaming entertainment dollars being spent? Should I add to my line-up?

Oh, and while I have your attention, do you still go to regular movie theaters? Is the experience of sharing a movie with other people in a dark room, with great sound, perfect picture, and over-priced popcorn part of your entertainment experience? If you are avoiding them until Covid has lost some of its power to hurt you, do you think you will go back to the local multiplex?


51 comments:

  1. So great to have you back, Bob! At 73, still being the thrifty guy I've always been, I have a mantra. "I won't know what I've missed if I never see it!" Our cable and internet bill is already too high and we also have Netflix and Hulu. I use the myriad YouTube videos for entertainment whuch also educate me. I think you already have too many choices you'll never get to use. Don't add more.

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    1. I agree with you, Bruce. Disney Plus, for example, is for the grandkids when they are over. But, that is happening less and less as they get older. So, it may go away.

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  2. Unless you have Disney for frequent grandkid visits, I’d swap it for HBOMax, which has a much deeper catalogue. Oh, and catch “McCartney 3-2-1” on Hulu!

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    1. My response to Bruce echos your point about Disney Plus. We find very little adult content worth our time.

      The McCartney series on Hulu was fascinating. A second series would be tremendous.

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  3. We have Netflix because it's the default, Prime because with the pandemic we suddenly were ordering a lot more stuff from Amazon, Apple TV+ because I bought a new iPad and we got it free for a year, which has since expired but we like Ted Lasso and one or two others so we still have it (I guess that was the point of the "free" year). Britbox has become our go to streaming service, my wife is also British so that may have something to do with it.

    We didn't cut the cord and still have regular TV on cable though mostly we record shows on our DVR and watch them later. I suppose we could just stream regular TV but with TV streaming you MUST watch the commercials, there's no skipping over them as we do on our DVR. Except that it's on your schedule streaming regular TV almost feels like the old days before DVRs.

    Some other plus+ services occasionally have a show here and there we'd like to watch but so far we've resisted. I guess the good thing about Apple TV+ is that they will allow you to just buy one show or movie if that's all you want. We've never done that but I see Apple TV+ often offer it when I am searching for a show. We have an Apple TV box for our streaming and on that the Apple TV+ app also keeps track of the shows you are watching on the other streaming services (except for Netflix) which is convenient. An Amazon Firestick may do the same thing, I'm not sure.

    I guess we are pretty basic streamer types and we may still be watching "regular" TV more than most. I am not a go out to the movie theatre kind of guy and with the big screen 4K TV and my top notch TV surround sound system I don't feel like I'm missing much.

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    1. We can watch regular "free" TV over an antenna in our living room, but do so very rarely.

      I have never investigated Apple TV+ but will check it out.

      I should have mentioned Roku. We use it as the hub for our streaming services because we found it more dependable than a similar system built into the Samsung TV.

      Roku does have dozens of other free apps that we use occasionally, primarily for news.

      Like you, I avoid movie theaters. The communal nature of it doesn't excite me. More to the point, there are very few new movies made for my age group!

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  4. We have what I would call the typical - Netflix, Prime. I got a year free of Apple and I think we might keep it when the free period is over. We also have Discovery+ without ads which has spoiled me. We need to explore it more because my husband isn’t sure it’s been worth having. I think we get in the habit of watching a whole season of something and get impatient when we’re current and new shows only come out once a week. I would like Paramount+ but I can’t see spending more. We still have Dish and do watch a lot of network shows.

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    1. Our ad-driven Hulu subscription came free with Spotify, but I would pay for it if the promtion ever ends.

      For me, Discovery has lost its appeal...too many reality and niche shows about strange people behaving oddly.

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  5. Netflix,Amazon Prime,Apple Plus, PBS Passport and Hulu with ads.That’splenty for us!!!!

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  6. We also get Kanopy, a free service with our library card. It has thousands of specialty type movies and documentaries. It takes some time to find the good stuff. But, if you are a real movie buff, it is one to check out if your local library system is one that offers it.

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  7. Netflix and Amazon prime. That's enough for us. We do still go to the movie theater -- or at least we did until Covid hit. We have an Indie movie theater in our town showing lots of interesting sometimes-offbeat films. We will go back as soon as we feel safe.

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    1. We probably wouldn't have added Hulu unless it cam free. But, it turns out there are a lot of older TV shows we like.

      Our youngest daughter loves movies in the theater so we go to some we normally would not choose. I am looking forward to the new James Bond film, though.

      See if Kanopy is available to you. It is one of the best source of art house and indie films I have found. And, it is free.

      At $20 a year, Curiosity is excellent for historical, documentaries, and educational material.

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  8. I underline Disney us. Or I would if it wasn't for the fact I'm addicted to the mandalorian. I have Netflix and prime. Underneath that I have varying subscriptions thru my fire stick which right now includes PBS masterpiece. I do have ESPN plus because no cable. However I am now doing a trial of YouTube TV for sixty bucks a month and may keep it thru March madness for the sports. I mainly watch sports and a few movies and alot of European or British series plus Netflix shows. And yes. I go to the movies weekly or every other week. Usually in five dollar Tuesdays but even with a large TV the viewing is simply not the same. Missed it today but next week is James Bond.

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    1. Except for watching the AZ Cardinals on free TV, my TV sports input is minimal. I am one of the few guys I know without ESPN.

      Yes on the new James Bond flick!

      We have watched all of the Mandalorian, but there is not a lot else on Disney plus that attracts us.

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    2. I hope you aren't paying sixty dollars a month for YouTube TV!

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  9. Oh. Although it's not directly related I also get the Great courses plus...that plus again..thru my firestick. If I didn't I'd probably get curiosity stream. Olli is back in session here but it's a bit farther than in Colorado and I'm trying not to make too many specific time of day commitments.

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  10. We have Netflix, Amazon Prime, PBS Passport, Hulu (without ads), Disney+, ESPN+ (only because it came bundled with Hulu and Disney+), and Peacock. Netflix our son-in-law put on, we use it for the occasional movie. Amazon Prime because we have it anyway for shopping, PBS Passport because we donate to PBS anyway. We bought the Hulu/Disney+/ESPN because we wanted to watch "Hamliton." We keep it because we watch old TV shows on Hulu and National Geographic through Disney+. We added Peacock recently because we wanted to watch the Olympics and the series "Heartland," which is great. There are a few short commercials in the free version, but that's ok. I bought a new iPad 6 months ago, but I forgot to enroll in the 1 yr free AppleTV+ service until 2 days after the offer had expired. Although I spoke with Apple and a supervisor, they would not bend the rules for me, so I don't have that one.

    I love movies on the big screen in a theater, but with the virus around I won't go. And as you said, there aren't many new movies around that I want to see.

    A great iPhone app is "Just Watch." There's a internet version too. Type in a show or movie that you want to watch and it will tell you which streaming services that you have offer it. And where else you can find it for what price too.

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    1. We donate to PBS too, so the Passport is free. We love "Finding Your Roots." We also added Peacock for the Olympics but haven't been back to it since.

      Our smart TV has the ability tp search for where shows are available, but it is not always accurate. Even so, it is worth speaking slowly and distinctly to find something we are searching for.

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  11. I switch around and usually keep two at a time. Right now I only have Acorn TV, which is my all time favorite. I love the British shows, especially the crime dramas. I’ve had Prime and Netflix, but exhausted the ones I wanted to see. One day when there is enough new good stuff, I’ll go back. I will need to get Hulu because I want to watch The Handmaids Tale. And I’ll need to get BritBox to finish up Vera and Line of Duty plus some others. I could get by without ever watching network TV except for PBS. Lots of choices out there.

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    1. We had Britbox for at least a year and watched virtually everything modern. I can't really enjoy programs from the 70s or 80s because of the technical quality, but more so the old square screen presentation. So, we let that subscription lapse.

      Acorn TV is one we have never tried. We love British crime and mystery shows so that is one we should add.

      I watched the first few seasons of Handmaid's Tale and kept excepting it to stop being so depressing and have the main characters revolt more aggressively. That never happened so I gave up on the new season.

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    2. In your post you said you’d had Acorn TV If not, I highly recommend it. Lots of new and original shows. I don’t like the old ones either.

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  12. We have a TCL Roku TV and use YouTube TV like most people would with Cable. It costs about $70/ mo and has the ability to record shows so you can fast forward through commercials. YouTube TV also gets all our local channels and On Demand content as well. We tried HuLu Plus, but they raised their prices and more of their content still had commercials. We also have Netflix and Prime.

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    1. I never understood the appeal of Hulu Plus since there still are commercials. The version with ads is fine...that 2 minutes is perfect for a bathroom break or snacks.

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  13. Like others, we got free Apple TV+ with a new iPhone and I may pay for it when it expires. We're enjoying Ted Lasso and The Morning Show, and there are other interesting options as well that I haven't gotten to. Clever marketing by Apple.

    We have the cheap cable package that comes with a new contract, but when it expires next spring, we'll probably just let it go, since we now have another internet option in our new neighborhood. (Those bundled packages are often not much less when you drop the cable.)

    Most of what we watch is on Netflix, PBS Passport and Amazon Prime. I just subscribed to Hulu so I can watch TV shows when I choose (and I never remember when they are on). In the past, we subscribed to Acorn TV and paid for it until we watched everything that interest us.

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    1. Apple TV+ has been mentioned several times. While I don't have an Apple Device, I assume they would love to sell me a subscription through Roku.

      You had the same experience with Acorn that we did with Britbox: watch everything that interests you and then let it go.

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  14. Good to hear from you again! I don't watch TV. I've discovered podcasts. I have Amazon Prime, but I don't watch the Amazon offerings. I would go to the movie theaters again after Covid.

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    1. Podcasts are an interesting development over the last few years. Just five or six years ago a podcast was a real niche product that didn't attract a large audience or advertisers. Most weren't very professionally done or marketed.

      Now, I would venture to guess there are more podcasts than blogs. They have become big business and cover absolutely everything of interest. They look good and are usually very well produced. I should dip my toe in that water and see what might interest me.

      Thanks, Rick.

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  15. When I look at the free channels in our YouTubeTV line-up, I am reminded of that old Springsteen song: "99 channels and nothing on". I still scroll thru it most nights but with the exception of the football broadcasts and the Euro soccer games on Sat/Sun mornings, I am left wanting.
    Luckily, we have two kids who regularly supply their parents with gadgets and shared (free) subscriptions, so we have the Apple TV 4K device, Apple TV, HBO Plus, Netflix, Disney, and Amazon Prime TV. Additionally, in the early days of Covid lockdown last year, we got into K-Dramas and movies as a diversion (caution: highly addictive), so we added Viki.
    We found that having straight internet and then streaming services is a bit less expensive than going with a bundled plan from the likes of AT&T. If I had to pay for every streaming service, I would settle for Netflix and HBO as their content best matches our preferences.
    We have not felt the loss of in-theater big screen movie watching but we may be going back to it in the future if the Covid situation and vaccines get us to a safe place as a community.

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    1. Like you, we pay for Internet service through the major cable TV company in the area, and then add streaming services that fit our interests.

      A new one: I have never heard of Viki.

      Another mention of HBO. I will have to take a look.

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  16. I got a good chuckle out of your article today. My progression from cutting the cord and adopting streaming services is nearly identical to yours including the creep back towards cable prices.

    My wife and I have Netflix, YouTube TV, Hulu (no commercials), Amazon Prime, and Disney+. We are avid Detroit Tiger baseball fans but YouTube TV and other services no longer carry Bally Sports Detroit (used to be Fox Sports Detroit) due to contract disputes over costs. We went from watching nearly every Tiger game in years past to only being able to watch one game (opening day) this year. There have to be lots of cord-cutting baseball fans like us.

    I’m also unable to watch Detroit Pistons basketball or Detroit Redwings hockey.

    I’m toying with the idea of dropping YouTube TV and adding a new service, DirectTV Stream, to watch the sports we’re missing but I haven’t investigated this closely yet. YouTube TV is a pretty comprehensive service.

    Hallmark Movies falls through the cracks as well. None of our services carries the channel. During November and December we add frndlyTV to watch Christmas Movies.

    We very rarely go to the movie theatres anymore. This occurred long before the pandemic. The big screen digital tv, vastly improved sound, and the comfortable lazy boy chairs in our living room leave little reason to venture to the theatre. I’m very patient and will wait years if necessary to view the cinema releases. I would guess this all started about the time Netflix began with DVD’s in the mail. Occasionally I’ll take my wife to dinner and a movie for a date night, maybe once or twice a year at most.

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    1. I can completely relate to the sports problem. I went from watching 3 or 4 Diamondback games a week to none. After Fox Sports disappeared, AT&T wanted $70 a month for Bailey Sports. No way. Of course that also meant no Coyote Hockey either.

      My wife misses Hallmark during the holiday season. We used to have Sling TV but when they lost Fox Sports it wasn't worth the monthly bill for a few Hallmark movies.

      Besides not having many movies that appeal to our age group anymore, I detest the movie theater's need to play previews at twice the normal volume. Drives me bonkers!

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  17. We share Netflix with family and pay for Amazon. We done to PBS and therefore get PBS passport. We also use a bit of Kanopy and Hoopla free from our library. Haven't been back to the movies yet.

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    1. The last few nights we have been spending our TV time with Kanopy and Curiosity. They are a refreshing change.

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  18. We have basic cable. We live in a shallow valley surrounded by low hills, badly positioned with regard to television stations. Neighbors report and services predict that antenna reception would not be good for us. We added Netflix and have Prime anyway. I also donate to PBS, as do many of us, and so have PBS passport, which is my personal go-to watching source. I don't do the paid Youtube service but I DO end up donating to Patreon for the "Green Renaissance" series. They're short and gorgeously filmed, with messages that uplift rather than dismay. Because of special health circumstances that make me more vulnerable and because I think Covid will be with us for a long time, even if at a lower risk level, I sadly don't foresee myself going to a theater anytime in the near future. I have a small group of friends who gathered sometimes for movies and lunch. We are lucky enough to have Austin's Starlite Drive-in theaters within an hour of us to give us a fun theater night, but their selection is of course somewhat limited. You have to make reservations early to get a spot.

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    1. Several folks have mentioned PBS Passport. We have it, but I am realizing we don't spend nearly enough time with their tremendous programming.

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  19. Hi Bob,glad you are back to writing.I have DAZN for sports and cable as well.The costs for phone ,cell,internet and cable is $ 265.00 a month.I am interested in what other people are spending .

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    1. Our Internet is $90. The various streaming channels are about $32. Our cell phone bill is $70.

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    2. Hi Harry, we spend $55 for internet, $70 for two cell phones, and $13.99 for Netflix, or $139 monthly all in.

      We are light TV viewers, generally one show (one hour) a night, so paying for one streaming service works well for us. But we share our Netflix access with our family, and in return they share with us. As a result we also have free access to Hulu and Amazon Prime even if we rarely watch them.

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    3. Sharing subscriptions is a common practice that is permitted by the various services. We do the same with one of our daughters.

      BTW, if this is the right Tamara, happy belated birthday!

      If you are a different Tamara happy unbirthday!

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  20. I have YouTubeTV, Amazon Prime, PBS-Passport, and ROKU. I don't watch very many movies so Netflix didn't interest me. Eventually I will go back to the movie theater but I'm looking at the end of 2022. No rush. My Amazon Prime carries both a Britbox and Acorn channel. I thought it came with all Prime accounts.

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    1. I believe they each have a free period, but then cost for a subscription. I will double-check, though, because I would enjoy both.

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  21. I guess I am old school. We watch a lot of college sports and streaming services carrying the Pac12 channel are few. We still have traditional cable through Xfinity which includes most everything we want. The package includes Netflix, Showtime and Peacock, our internet, phone (landline) and DVR. Additionally I have Paramount+, but have watched what I want and may cancel, and I have Hulu shared free by my daughter. Our cost with taxes, etc. is $202 per month. Paramount+ with no ads is $10. I don't think cutting the cord would save us anything. It is so much easier to have everything in one place, as the most popular steaming services are included on the Xfinity platform.

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    1. Convenience is one of the attractions of the type of arrangement you, and millions of others, have.

      Since we spend around $190 a month, I'd say you have a good deal.

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  22. Also, I forgot, we both have cellphones with Tracfone. Our cost is about $125 per YEAR, for each phone.

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  23. In the past, I tried both cable and satellite, and both left me surfing lots of channels I had no interest in trying to find (often unsuccessfully) something I would want to watch. Now I am very happy with my Roku box, which gives me access to local news and some free movies and classic TV shows. (I've been rewatching Cagney and Lacey, which I was addicted to in the 1980s.) I supplement that with three subscription streaming services: PBS Passport, Britbox, and Acorn. Total cost is $27 per month (if you include my monthly donation to Maine Public Broadcasting, which I would be making even without Passport). Recently, I have been thinking about letting go of my Acorn subscription because it overlaps with Britbox, but it's probably worth the extra $6 per month to get some Canadian, Australian and New Zealand shows that I enjoy.
    I stopped going out to movie theatres years ago because I found the sound so painfully loud and was often distracted by the sound bleeding through the walls from different films in neighboring theatres in the multiplex. I get my shared movie experience several times a year when I visit my brother and his wife (who seem to have cable + every streaming service known to humankind); they have a Saturday evening ritual of watching a movie on their big screen TV.

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    1. I have asked movie theater managers why they run the audio of previews at double the volume of the actual movie. They say the movie distributors insist on very loud previews; it is out of the local theater's control.

      I am debating between going back to Britbox or trying Acorn for the first time. After so many positive mentions from this post, Acorn is likely to get a trial.

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  24. Do Acorn, you won’t be sorry. So many choices for every taste. I know I sound like I work for them…I don’t.😊. And if you do Facebook, there is an Acorn TV fans group with all kind of recommendations. Mostly British or Ireland and a fair amount of Australian and some excellent foreign series with subtitles. I thought I’d never do subtitles, but you get use to them and they become second nature.

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    1. We were discussing such a move this evening. At $7/month I won't break the bank.

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